The year is 1881. Meet the Mackenzie family–rich, powerful, dangerous, eccentric. A lady couldn’t be seen with them without ruin. Rumors surround them–of tragic violence, of their mistresses, of their dark appetites, of scandals that set England and Scotland abuzz.
The youngest brother, Ian, known as the Mad Mackenzie, spent most of his young life in an asylum, and everyone agrees he is decidedly odd. He’s also hard and handsome and has a penchant for Ming pottery and beautiful women.
Beth Ackerley, widow, has recently come into a fortune. She has decided that she wants no more drama in her life. She was raised in drama–an alcoholic father who drove them into the workhouse, a frail mother she had to nurse until her death, a fussy old lady she became constant companion to. No, she wants to take her money and find peace, to travel, to learn art, to sit back and fondly remember her brief but happy marriage to her late husband.
And then Ian Mackenzie decides he wants her.
The first of a new historical series.
So, first things first. The male lead in this book, Lord Ian MacKenzie, has Asperger Syndrome.
I just set you on edge, didn’t I? You’re having flashbacks to Real, aren’t you?
Go ahead and release that breath you didn’t realize you’d been holding, because I’m here to tell you that this aspect of the novel is handled very well.
Ian hyper focuses on objects, he’s obsessed with patterns, he doesn’t always like to be touched, he has issues with eye contact, and he struggles to follow conversations if more than one person is involved. And this just skims the surface of the way his autism manifests throughout this novel.
His quirks are at times endearing, at times confusing, and at times frustrating, for both the reader and the cast of characters surrounding him. And they’re meant to be, which is wonderful.
You can tell that Ashley really did her research here, and I applaud that.
What I found to be incredibly disappointing is that beneath those quirks, Ian is the same old tired, overused male lead I’ve found in so many other historical romances.
I started to dread this being the case the moment he met the female lead, Beth, whose name I just had to look up even though I literally finished this book five minutes ago (that should tell you something, more to come on her later).
So he meets Beth at an opera house. He knows her fiancé. He knows her fiancé is a huge tool. And he came ready to warn her away from him, with a detailed note detailing the man’s dalliances and perversions.
Whether or not he gives the note to Beth is entirely dependent on whether or not he deems her worthy:
“I wrote it before I came tonight, in case when I met you I thought you’d be worth saving.”
Seeing as how they didn’t even speak to each other before he slid her his missive, it’s safe to say her worth is based solely on her appearance. S’cuse me? Are you for real right now? Is that in any way supposed to endear him to me?
WELL, IT DIDN’T.
Then they actually speak, and during their first verbal interactions Ian began to covet Beth, to think of her as ‘his’. This mindset only became more pronounced as the book went on. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, as a tie in to his autism, but his possessiveness of her, and her easy acceptance of it really bothered me because of how it was portrayed. It was domineering, dehumanizing, and objectifying.
“Tell Isabella’s gentlemen friends to keep far from you. I don’t want them touching you.”
“Only you can touch me?”
He nodded, brows together. “Yes.”
“I don’t think I mind that,” she said softly.
I do. Cut that shit out.
They refused, and Ian even goes so far as to force Beth into marrying him. This whole scene made me see red. Beth is a widow, not some blushing virgin terrified of her reputation being ruined. She’s very clear from the beginning that she only wants a physical relationship with Ian, and even turned down an earlier proposal from him.
Then they get caught out during a liaison by a douchebag cop named Fellows who has it out for the MacKenzies, and this happens:
“Ian turned around. “We are leaving by the front door. Be damned to Fellows.”
“I thought you said he was ready to arrest us.”
“Why should he?” Ian’s voice hardened, and he glanced at her with a look she didn’t understand. “He has no reason to arrest a man for spending a night in a pension with his wife.”
Beth stopped. “But I’m not your…”
She took in the priest, Mac’s expression, Curry’s innocently blank face.
“Oh, no,” she said, her heart sinking. “Oh, Ian, no.”
Yuuuuuuuup. Yup. Yup. Yup. Silly, woman. This is the nineteenth century, what you want doesn’t matter. Especially not to the one fucking person it should matter most to.
Once they’re married, he continues to force his will upon her, even going so far as to use sex as a weapon when he doesn’t like the words coming out of her mouth:
“She bit her lip, white teeth on red, and his desire rose swiftly, inconveniently. But if he made love to her, if he rode her until she couldn’t breathe, she’d stop asking questions, she’d stop thinking, she’d stop looking at him.”
Ew. That’s just…disturbing.
Beth’s character is no better. She judges the females around her as gossip-mongering nitwits, and then goes on to relish in gossip with her friend, she betrays the male lead’s trust time and time again, and at the end of the book her TSTL tendencies drove me up the fucking wall.
Then we have this little gem:
“This was the third day Beth had sat there studying the vista of Paris, the third day her paper had remained blank. She’d realized after her initial excitement of purchasing pencils, paper, and easel that she had no idea how to draw.”
That’s right. She’s so stupid she forgot she’d never had an art lesson before, never so much as attempted a sketch on her own.
Lastly, there was the plot. It was not only predictable, but riddled with gaping holes wide enough to drive a carriage through, which I won’t get into because spoilers.
In the end, the well-portrayed autism and the well-researched setting just weren’t enough to surmount this book’s many, many other issues.